So this took much, much, much longer than anticipated, because I lost at least three chapters and life got in the way. But thanks for reading (if you are) and there's more to come.

Syndicate

by Tanya Lilac

Chapter Nine - Hush

By the time they arrived at the promenade, Tenten was well aware of how easily Takeshi spoke, and could make her smile. He was interesting company and fun to be around. He could tell jokes and his laugh was open and infectious. He carried conversations effortlessly, but accepted silences without feeling the need to fill them. She had initially thought he would be an aloof character but really, he seemed more naïve than anyone she'd ever met. In a word, Sugimura Takeshi was ordinary. Perfect for the ordinary bookworm, Inoue Miyako. Easy work for Tenten, Konoha spy trained in the art of manipulation.

They arrived back at the café just past eleven, and Miyako invited Takeshi into the café kitchen, disabling the alarm habitually with a swipe of her thumb as she turned on the lights. She locked the door behind her and smiled at Takeshi, who was inspecting his purpling bruise in the reflection of the microwave window.

"Would you like some ice?" Miyako offered.

Takeshi turned to smile at her. "That would be helpful."

The brunette turned to open the freezer and rummaged around for an ice pack, knowing that Suzune kept at least three around. One of them was missing. Shrugging, Miyako pulled one out of the back of the freezer and wrapped it in a clean tea towel before handing it to Takeshi, who bowed slightly before accepting the bundle and pressing it gingerly to his cheek. The crisp air outside had stung, and the pressure now made him wince.

"I guess he's just acting out because he wants attention," Miyako said, watching him. A small smile played across her lips as she added, "And Nagayama Hiroki is a jerk, too."

"Very funny," Takeshi huffed, and she smiled at his rueful expression. "Although … I didn't expect you to do such a thing."

"Hmm?" Miyako replied absently, as if trying to change the subject. Takeshi sighed and walked over to her and pulled her towards him, wrapping an arm around her waist as she leaned comfortably against him.

"I think it would be safe to say … I would not like to get on your bad side."

Miyako grinned deviously. "Well, I have more than one, just so you know," she whispered as he leaned down to kiss her, the hand holding the ice pack falling away from his cheek. Their lips brushed for an instant before the kitchen door burst open and Suzune waltzed into the kitchen, smiling and for once completely unfazed by Takeshi's presence. He quickly let go of her and wandered away, pressing the ice pack back against his cheek.

"You're home," Suzune said brightly.

Miyako nodded. "Yeah. We ran into a spot of trouble, though. You look like you're having fun," she remarked with a sly grin, noting the slightly worn lipstick and mussed hair.

"Don't say a word," Suzune pouted, and Miyako was struck by how cold her eyes seemed, and wondered where she'd seen that kind of expression before. A moment later, she realised she'd waited too long, and the red head took in a deep breath and turned away.

"Well I'll be upstairs, then," she said to no one in particular. "You're free to sit in the lounge room, if you like," she added absently, before disappearing up the stairs again.

Miyako waited until the sound of Suzune's footsteps died away, and sighed as she turned to face Takeshi, who was rummaging around in the fridge.

"Stop that," she snapped, playfully pushing him out of the way. "Yuichi-kun will throw a tantrum-"

"Have you seen Yuichi throw a tantrum?" Takeshi asked. "Copious amounts of alcohol are usually involved and I end up having to knock him out."

The image was familiar to Tenten, and bordered on dangerous territory.

"Let's go," Miyako sighed, changing the subject. "Suzu put the ice cream in our kitchen freezer, and there's nowhere to sit down here." Takeshi nodded and followed her to the side of the kitchen where Suzune had left the door up to their living room ajar. Miyako noticed that there were no extra pairs of shoes, and frowned as she tugged off her boots and put them on the shoe rack.

A feminine giggle and low, murmured response echoed down the stairs, and Miyako cleared her throat. "So, do you have any Christmas plans?" she asked, wincing inwardly. Things could be more awkward.

Takeshi paused for a moment as Miyako stuck her head back into the kitchen to turn off the lights near the door. "Well, now that you ask," he began slowly, as they walked up the stairs. "My family has an annual Christmas party, and my father invites all of my brothers back until the New Year. It's ten days of ... well, we'll just go with madness."

"You don't get along well with your family?" Hearing stories about other people's families always fascinated her.

"Well, no." Takeshi replied, following her up the stairs. "My father has four sons and a daughter, so there's always room to choose another favourite. It's always been Jin, though. Mother adores Shizuka in her own way, and she still lives with our parents despite being married with children."

"And Jin-san is..."

"The oldest," Takeshi replied tersely. "Naturally."

Miyako nodded and they reached the top of the landing, Takeshi looking around at their living room and kitchen. Everything was new, not quite orderly, and smelled like flowers, not coffee. The atmosphere seemed warm and vibrant, he supposed. Much like its occupants. "Let me guess," he said, rubbing his chin, "Suzune's uncle from Tokyo paid for the renovation."

The brunette, who had walked into the kitchen to find the ice cream, turned to look at him with surprise. "How did you know?"

"Well, in the past, you know ..." He trailed off as Miyako came back over to him, holding in her hand a teaspoon and a small white tub of ice cream. "And you have your prize," he murmured, smiling down at her as she leaned against him. Takeshi wrapped his arms around her and she playfully wriggled away from him, placing the dessert on the coffee table. It was definitely more warm up here - Suzune had left the thermostat turned up - and Miyako shrugged out of her jacket and slung it on the back of a dining chair. She held out her hand to take Takeshi's jacket as he removed his own, but he only threw the garment onto the same chair and pulled her towards him, catching her by surprise.

This time, she did not resist and merely looked up at him with a mischievous expression. "I do like your scarf," she smiled.

"I think it might look better on me than on my girlfriend," he replied loftily, and she laughed, reaching up to remove it from his neck. Takeshi leaned down to kiss her, but she avoided his efforts once more.

"You can't just say that!" Miyako protested, smiling. Takeshi only laughed and released her, taking off the scarf and draping it over the jackets.

"Fair enough. Shall we open the ice cream, my most fair and wondrous ojou-sama?"

"Shut it," Miyako snapped, slapping his chest. "That won't get you anywhere, either." He laughed and they settled down on the couch again like before - had that really only been a few hours ago? - and Miyako prised the lid off the carton and helped herself to some ice cream. The flavour was distinctly minty, and the dark chocolate added a hint of bitterness she found refreshing and not too sweet. She sighed with contentment before handing the tub to Takeshi.

"So what were we talking about?" she asked, leaning back against the couch. Takeshi was a warm, solid presence, and she felt at ease with him. The notion was disconcerting to say the least. Of course, she knew exactly what they'd been talking about. The fact that he'd let things trail off had been enough of a hint to tell her that he clearly did not want to talk about what had happened with Suzune in the past.

"Let's see ... what was your childhood like?" Takeshi asked, changing the subject entirely.

"Yamanashi's not an incredibly interesting place," Miyako said slowly, allowing him to direct the conversation. "I spent my summers picking fruit and wishing I could go to theme parks," she lied. She'd never even been to Yamanashi. "I was ... adopted when I was around fifteen, by an eccentric martial arts instructor. I swear, Bruce Lee had nothing on my sensei -"

"Little Miya-chan doing martial arts?" Takeshi grinned, passing her the ice cream. "It's unbelievable."

Miyako blushed and bit her lip. This was getting risky. She sighed and helped herself to more of the dessert before continuing with the half-truth. "Well, I was a tomboy. My best friend at the orphanage, Dai, was the only one my age. The others had families anyway, so ... I grew up running around the place, hating skirts but liking anything pink-coloured."

And having a fascination with anything with a sharp edge. A natural affinity, Gai-sensei had called it.

Takeshi chuckled. "What changed?"

"Dai was adopted, I was sent to a private girls' high school ... I grew up." Miyako became pensive and quiet, and Takeshi watched as she withdrew into herself. He himself had done the same thing barely an hour ago. As she sat there silently, she was aware that Takeshi had reached out to her and placed an arm around her shoulder, drawing her into him.

"And let's not forget your father," Takeshi reminded her with a smile, holding out a spoon of the ice cream in an attempt to lighten the mood, and Tenten knew she couldn't risk him prying anymore. She looked at him as if with new eyes, and smiled, obediently accepting the offered dessert.

Without warning, she reached up and pulled his mouth to hers, the coldness of ice cream and mint and chocolate giving way to his warmth, slowly and quietly. Miyako pulled away to catch her breath and blushed in spite of herself, turning away to hide from Takeshi's sly grin.

"That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Don't get ahead of yourself," she mumbled, but he only continued to smile at her, and kissed her again, with more fire than she'd anticipated.

Careful, Tenten warned her, you could get burned. There'll be nothing left but ashes.

Miyako didn't listen. Instead, there was only the sound of her quiet sighs as he ran his lips across her neck and she fumbled with the buttons on her blouse and the buckle of his belt.

The spoon lay on the floor, forgotten.

As Tenten woke up, she became aware of a few things without even opening her eyes. Firstly, she wasn't in her own bed; she could feel the hard base of the couch beneath her. Secondly, she was not alone on the couch, she was all too aware of the scent of someone else sleeping at her side, the heat emanating from their bodies enough to ward off any chill. Thirdly, she was only wearing her undergarments. And the person sleeping behind her was making no pretence of sleep, his hands freely roaming her skin as his breath fanned across the nape of her neck. Think.

Sukiyaki.

Wine.

Takeshi.

Tenten pursed her lips.

Nagayama, and the Hyuuga.

Ice cream.

Lips brushed against her skin and she fought a smile.

Blouse hanging from a nightshade.

Thank you, Tenten thought dryly, for stating the obvious.

"Stop faking it," Takeshi whispered in a low voice.

"Stop doing that," Miyako replied tartly as she nudged his hand away from the curve of her breast. Undeterred, he left his hand on her hip and she sighed, stretching against his lean body. She noticed that their legs were intertwined; his weight was heavy and just ... different, the feel of his hands foreign. His scent was almost musky and unfamiliar, unlike the clean subtleties of Hy- ... him.

She was glad he couldn't see her face. Nevertheless, her heart betrayed her, and she felt it thud out of synch with the heart beating at her back. Thankfully, Takeshi said nothing, and Tenten realised the tension that had gathered in her shoulders gave way as if she had sighed. She was off her game this morning.

Without another word and her eyes still firmly shut, Miyako turned over to face his chest, crossing her arms over her own to put some distance between his pulse and hers. It was unnerving; she hadn't been this close to another person other than him in so long. The notion brought a dull, throbbing headache and Miyako gave an involuntary groan, and Takeshi chuckled breathily. She pushed her hand against his chest, but they were saved from speaking at the sound of the door at the bottom of the stairs opening, and Suzune stomping as best she could in house slippers up the stairs.

Suzune paused at the landing and drew in a sharp breath before walking over and placing something on the coffee table before turning abruptly. As she reached the stairs again, she said in a low voice, "Drink it when you finally bother to get up."

They waited until the door slammed shut moments later before breaking the silence again.

"She's not a morning person, I see," Takeshi said, grinning.

Miyako sighed and nestled closer to him. "Neither am I."

"You're working in the wrong place, then," he replied, running his hand over her cheek, and finally, she opened her eyes. And just like she'd feared, her heart seemed to sink just that little bit more when she realised she'd hoped to see the face of another man. Takeshi smiled at her. "Good morning," he said, kissing her gently.

"Good morning," Miyako replied evenly.

She cringed as they heard another crash from downstairs, and sat up and reached for the cup of tea Suzune had left, and handed the mug of black coffee to Takeshi. It was hot, but had cooled enough to drink. They drank quickly in a grateful silence, Miyako with an arm crossed over her chest to cover herself. He chuckled at the sight and placed a kiss on her shoulder.

Miyako pulled a face and placed the empty cup on the table. "You're teasing me, somehow," she said, turning to face an immensely bemused Takeshi.

He shrugged. "I just thought you wouldn't mind; it's nothing I haven't seen already," he said casually, raising the cup to cover his mouth. Miyako narrowed her eyes and Takeshi almost dropped his cup.

"That's a pretty scary face, Miya-chan."

"I'm not in a good mood," she said archly.

He chuckled. "Hmm, it seems to be going around this morning." hesitated, as if weighing his words, and continued. "I'm not surprised, considering what happened yesterday."

Miyako began looking around for her clothes and settled for pulling the blanket back over her chest. She ran a hand through her hair and sighed, and Takeshi watched her, concerned.

"Are you okay?"

Something didn't add up.

"Take it easy. I knew you were a lightweight, but I didn't think you'd even had enough wine to fall asleep," Takeshi smiled wryly, and she looked away. "Although I would really laugh if you were still drunk."

Disorientation. Headache. Dehydration. The memory block suddenly made sense. She, or more accurately, they had been drugged, since they'd both been eating exactly the same things since yesterday evening.

"Fall asleep?" Well, she had been wearing clothes (however scant) when she woke up. "Does that mean that we …?"

The silence said enough and she had the grace to blush. The fact that he was still here added to her theory, although she wasn't sure if he was the type to leave after that kind of a mortifying experience. Takeshi sighed and placed the cup back on the table, and she hesitated for only an instant before leaning over and wrapping her arms around him.

"What's –"

His eyes widened as she kissed him, but as she broke away, her cheeks still pink, she knew that her suspicions had been correct. Now, only to find out what it was …

"I need some clothes," she mumbled, looking around, trying to recall what had happened. Their clothes were folded neatly on the table, his jacket was where he had left it, and his scarf lay on top. The sink was empty – there had been something else in this picture, but it was gone now.

The ice cream.

Bitch.

"Miya-chan?" Takeshi came up behind her and draped the blanket over her head as he reached for his pants, and pulled them on, and Miyako could hear him hopping awkwardly. She waited until he pulled the blanket off and smiled up at him as he draped the scarf around his neck. "Is everything okay?"

There was another crash, and Miyako wondered absently if they even had customers. Suzune normally stayed out of the kitchen, it was Yuichi's domain.

"I think … it might be better if you head off first. Take Yuichi with you, if you can."

"I didn't want to get you into trouble," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"It's okay," Miyako replied, shaking her head. "There's just been a misunderstanding."

"I'll call you later, okay?"

He kissed her swiftly and draped his jacket over a shoulder and left the room, quickly walking down the stairs and slipping into the kitchen. She heard the heavy back door open and close and ran up the stairs two at a time, dressing quickly once she arrived in her room.

There was only one thing that they would have been poisoned with last night. It was a drug commonly used when they needed to knock out a target, it was most effective at around four degrees Celsius so the usually mixed it into drinks with ice. The operatives who had been the first to use it nicknamed it 'Sleeping Dragon', as those who woke up after the dosage wore off were slightly more aggressive than usual. So, it was commonly used with a different compound, which others had inventively called 'Rise and Shine' that helped with the side effects of the Sleeping Dragon drug, namely dizziness, disorientation and photosensitivity. The compound had a bitter aftertaste, so they often added it to juice or coffee. So, everything lined up – first the ice cream, and then the coffee. There was no mistaking what had happened yesterday. Now all she had to find out was who, and why.

Tenten rummaged through her wardrobe and found a small zipper pouch that contained several vials of liquids and powders – but none had been depleted. Which meant that …

"So that's where you kept it."

She whirled around and found herself staring at her own gun and silencer in Suzune's hands.

"Drop your weapon and keep your hands where I can see them." Her voice was cold and calm and her hands were steady, unfaltering. She was a professional, there was no doubt.

"Who are you?" Tenten asked, sliding her knives out to the side of the room so Suzune would see.

"I don't suppose there's a point in me asking you the same, so don't bother asking me."

"Well you need to be a retired agent," Tenten said, slowly rising to her feet. "Otherwise you'd never be running this safe house. Did you really think I was a civilian? You know exactly what it is you're in the middle of."

"Did they try to tell you that I had nothing to do with the agency? Figures," Suzune scoffed. "Tsunade never liked me anyhow, probably didn't want me influencing you or anything."

"The drugs weren't necessary. If you'd been upfront with me I would have stayed over at Takeshi's."

"I told you I had company," Suzune replied, as if that had explained everything.

"You didn't tell me you would have a potentially wounded agent coming, fresh off some kind of dangerous mission!" Tenten shot back, her eyes blazing. "It was totally reckless, you left all of these stupid things lying around – one of the icepacks were gone, the first aid kit was missing, too many alcohol bottles were sitting in the sink and the place reeked of coffee to cover the smell of blood."

"And why would a civilian notice?"

"Why would you risk compromising an agent's cover? Like now, for instance," she snarled. "That gun is an empty threat. You don't want a body of an agent to deal with. Besides, what if Yuichi comes back? You're lucky I sent Takeshi out with him."

"I guess you're right about that," Suzune said with sarcastic cheer. "Thank you for being so considerate."

"Good. So get my gun out of my face so I can kick your ass for drugging me, you two faced bi-"

"Do you think you've even got a chance?" The red head tilted her head to the side, but made no other movement.

"There's only one way to find out," Tenten grinned. "I've been itching for a fight for weeks."

Suzune pulled the safety and slowly put it on the ground, her eyes never leaving that of her opponent. As she straightened, slowly, Tenten flew across the room and pushed her out of the room, slamming her against the wall of the narrow corridor.

"You're really angry aren't you?"

"You have no idea," she snarled, and Suzune slipped from her grip and brought her knee up into Tenten's side. Suzune swept her feet out from beneath her and she fell heavily on the floor, winded and almost blind with rage.

You're getting sloppy. There were two voices in her head this time.

"But let's face it," Suzune smirked. "You're angry that you're getting so rusty."

Tenten jumped to her feet as the red head turned to go down the stairs. Suzune yelped as Tenten tugged on her ponytail, pulled her back and smashed the side of her head into the wall with enough force to make her see stars. Dizzy and swearing, she spun, her arms raised to strike back, but Tenten blocked the blow and slipped past her defence, landing a punch on Suzune's stomach. As her opponent keeled over, Tenten backed away, and when she looked up again, there was fury in Suzune's eyes as well. Just in time. Tenten took a deep breath and grinned.

"Touch a nerve, did I? You've been off the grid for years, obviously. You're nowhere near good enough to keep up with me. Let me guess, you were another one of those sub-par agents with a generic code name and faded into obscurity after some vague stuff up on a mission."

Suzune charged forward again, her fists raised, but Tenten was able to block her once again they traded blows, with the redhead seeming to slowly get back into a rhythm, movements that her body remembered, as she struck back with enough strength to bruise. It was then that Tenten began to realise that Suzune was a natural at fighting; one of those monsters like Neji and Lee. At the top of her game, she would have been a force of-

Her train of thought was shattered as Suzune slapped her hard across the face, and she was pushed against the wall, an arm pressed against her windpipe.

"You know nothing about me," Suzune hissed. With tears in her eyes, Tenten shoved back, tasting blood in her mouth, her teeth baring themselves angrily. This had long since spiralled out of control.

"Then tell me!" Tenten shouted, her fists raised. "You're such a coward, hiding behind this façade of –"

And then, in a voice barely audible, Suzune replied, "I'm Calico."

"What?"

Suzune stared back defiantly. "My codename," she said loudly, as her eyes blazed with pride. "Is Calico."

Then, as if on cue, a sweet scent seemed to fill the corridor, and Suzune looked around with a dim smile. "Ah, I forgot," she whispered, falling to the ground. "The codeword …"

Tenten covered her mouth and nose, remembering that the house was rigged to lock down and knock out everyone within when the trigger was spoken by the owner, but it was too late. And as her eyes drifted shut and her pain faded away, all she could hear was the two of them telling her that she should have known better.

"Hush," she mumbled.